Soccer's New Ball-Tracking Technology Should Be Used In Every Sport

At last, after years of horribly bad referee calls, the cave full of old crooks and farts known as FIFA has approved the use of technology to track the ball in soccer games. This is a huge change, with profound implications in the most popular sport in the world.

Soccer is played by more than 250 million people in over 200 countries. It moves more money than any other sport on the planet. More importantly, billions of fans watch it avidly every other day. A soccer game -- the European Cup 2012 final in which Spain destroyed Italy -- generated more tweets than any other sporting event before it.

All of those fans love soccer as much as they love to discuss referee calls during and after the game. Calls that, when erroneous, may not only decide the outcome of a game but the fate of a team in a given competition or tournament, both of which often have national pride at stake. Moreover, a bad call may represent hundreds of millions of dollars won or lost for a team -- to say nothing of making a whole country cry. You know (or should), like when the USA lost that game to Slovenia in the World Cup.

HawkEye and GoalRef

That bad call, however, would still not have been avoided even if the technology that FIFA has approved today -- through the International Football Association Board (IFAB) -- had been in place.

The approved tech only affects ghost goals. Ghost goals occur when the ball passes the goal line but then jumps straight back out. Technically, it is a goal. But referees sometimes don't call it as such because they can't see it from their point of view -- even while the entire world can see it clearly on their TVs.

Other times, the refs seem to have ignoble intentions -- like when Lampard scored for England against Germany in South Africa '10, or Spain's Michel kicked the ball inside Brazil's goal in Mexico '86 only for it to bounce out.

The first technology is called HawkEye, which had been used in tennis for quite some time. HawkEye's cameras will be installed on the pitch's goalposts. They will track the ball and make sure it has passed the line.

For redundancy, there will be another tracking technology called GoalRef. Developed by Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS, GoalRef uses a low magnetic field around the goals, creating an invisible radio curtain. When the ball fully goes through that curtain, the magnetic field changes and the system sends an alert to the referee's wristwatch.

Both will be great additions that will avoid extremely bad and embarrassing decisions by the referee.

More is Needed

But technology can do a lot more right now, eliminating 90 per cent of the most common problems in referee decisions: off-sides. They only need to incorporate location microchips into players' boots and the ball. It doesn't have to be GPS. It could work locally, with a computer triangulating the position of players and balls using receptors placed around the field. It's not science-fiction technology. It can be easily done and it's not expensive for a sport that generates more money than any other in the world.

A technology like that, plus multiple cameras, would eliminate most of the problems and randomness of soccer, while avoiding interrupting the game too much.

Why they don't do it? Some say that, if you make it all too perfect, you take power away from the referees and the soccer federations. Others say that you will take la salsa off the sport. Like I said, people love to argue about these things. And then there are those that say that this would stop the game.

It's all bollocks, especially the last part: the game stops every time there's referee call, but even more so when it's a dubious fault, penalty, goal or offside. It's then when players and referee waste minutes discussing the play (and frustrated players get pissed off too, which later usually leads to more adrenaline and violence in the field).

Hopefully, the introduction of GoalRef and HawkEye signals a much needed change in a world that, more often than you think, is affected by hidden interests and manipulation. And I hope that if FIFA can change, other sports can change too.

When so much money and fans' pride is at stake in American Football, basketball, baseball and any-other-ball game you can think about, there is a clearly a need to use all the technology we can come up with to avoid any costly mistakes. [FIFA and Fraunhofer]



    the offside rule cannot be solved by a chip in the players boot to be offside and scoring part of the body ( the head, torso or legs) must behind at least two opposition players so a player who's feet are onside may not be onside at all. along with passive offside and the rest of the rules there needs to be a lot more thought put into a solution before the offside rule can be judged by computer's.

    I for one am for goal line technology but against anything else soccer needs to remain pure that is what is loved about it the human element.

      Yeah the human element, like taking a dive! :oP

      Nah easy! From a computery perspective. If you know the location of every player on the field, then you can determine the relative position of players on the field via some simple subtraction, and set some parameters that let you know when an "offside" scenario occurred by knowing the above and counting the number of players in different areas of the field. Let us write the software and you just enjoy the game.

    Not really sure what the 'technology' is - just a camera filing the goal line form different angles, have we not had this already?

    Ball tracking would be as simple as photogrametry, using known positions of the cameras (two only, more is better) and the focal length, horizontal angle and vertical angle of the camera and voila, you have the wall position tracked in real time coordinates accurate to less than 50mm.

    Nothing new with that either.

      CBF reading the bit about GoalRef?

        I think you are taking the term technology to literal its the phrase that has been widely used to put some type of 'Camera/sensor' on the goal line.

    Are you a football (the sports actual name) supporter at all?
    While this introduction is a welcome addition, the majority of football fans would agree that more is not needed at all. Camera's do not solve everything, even in offside a camera does not show a correct or incorrect decision.
    I am not sure if you have a proper understanding of the offside rule also. Chips in players boots will do nothing unless the player is standing completely offside, most dubious calls occur when the player is marginally offside with the upper half of their body. And how about when a player is in an offside position but not involved in that actual play?

    Football is not a stop and start game like NFL, or baseball.
    Overuse of technology ruins games.
    Its why Tennis doesn’t use just Hawkeye to determine if the ball is out or not for every point. And doesn’t allow players to challenge all the time.

    But possibly more importantly, the more technology you introduce the more it costs to set up games, and the more behind countries who cannot afford to upgrade their Stadia will be.

    I for one hope that this is the only piece of technology they add.

    Good article about the tech. Terrible article in terms of understanding the sport.

    Phffft... Germany vs. England in 2010 decision was poetic justice for the decision back in 1966
    Still, I'm happy some old farts in FIFA are finally are excepting modern technology to help with these calls... without impacting the flow of the game....

    Add more tech... and maybe a proper Soccer game might be played instead of ballet theatrics and riots.

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